Scientific American Article Explores Catch Data Controversy

A recent study by Trevor Branch and colleagues asserted that the decline in the mean trophic index is no longer present in the global catch data. But does it really cast doubt on the depletion of big ocean species?

In an article published today at Scientific American, journalist Mike Orcutt explores how best to measure commercial fishing’s impact on ocean biodiversity. He discusses the findings of Brach et al. in light of the new study quantifying fisheries expansion. Orcutt reports:

Pauly says the new PLoS One paper “completely invalidates” Branch’s Nature paper because the authors failed to account for the spatial expansion described in the former. As fisheries move offshore, he says, they first target large fish high on the food web—just as they did closer to shore. “Hence, moving offshore will mask inshore declines in mean trophic levels.”

Read the full article here.

Photo: Tiny fish caught by a trawler off of Hong Kong by Stanley Shea/BLOOM.

Jellyfish as the Catch du Jour

The global catch of jellyfish is now at more than 250,000 tonnes of tentacles every year. However, researchers like the Sea Around Us Project‘s Lucas Brotz, are still trying to figure out if there has been a rise of jellyfish globally. Brotz is using anecdotal information of jellyfish accounts through time to build a global model and he is seeing evidence of population increases but is not yet prepared to say if they are significant, which is mentioned in a recent article at Livescience asking if jellyfish are menaces or misunderstood. His work was also recently mentioned and in a story at edible Vancouver, exploring the jellyfish as the next catch du jour.

Collaboration with National Geographic on ‘Seafood Print’

We should be thinking about seafood consumption in terms of the type of fish we eat (predatory vs. forage fish) rather than simply by weight. Enter the seafood print — or the oceanic primary production required to generate a specific fisheries catch — featured this month in Paul Greenberg’s article for National Geographic titled Time for a Sea Change. The work is done by the Sea Around Us Project scientists in collaboration with National Geographic fellow Enric Sala; more details and methods are here. The top three largest seafood prints are made by China, Japan and the U.S. The Washington Post has covered the findings as well as the AFP. More results are to come as part of a scientific contribution, currently under review.

Scientists Question MSC

The Marine Stewardship Council, the fisheries eco-certification taken most seriously by consumers and scientists around the world, is failing to fulfill its promise, write six scientists, including the Sea Around Us Project’s Jennifer Jacquet and Daniel Pauly, in last week’s issue of Nature. Read their opinion piece, Seafood stewardship in crisis, or some of the media coverage, such as Why your sustainable fish may not be as guilt-free as you think at The Independent, Scientists criticize system of certifying fisheries at The New York Times Green Blog, or Sustainability certification fails to protect environment: report in the Vancouver Sun.

Legislators Meet to Strategize on Global Fisheries Decline

rightOn June 8, World Ocean’s Day, 40 senior Members of Parliament from 15 key fishing nations agreed on a new plan to reverse the decline of global fisheries. The meeting was organised by the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment, (GLOBE) to challenge the current international political failure to address the rapid decline of global fisheries stocks. Among the politicians were scientific and policy advisors, including the Sea Around Us Project’s Rashid Sumaila (photographed here with GLOBE Fisheries Commission Chairman and former UK Biodiversity Minister, Barry Gardiner MP).

The group agreed to the following Priority Actions:
Parliamentary Legislation
• Ratify and adopt robust implementing legislation for all existing UN and FAO international fishery agreements.
• Redirect inappropriate fishing subsidies into programmes that improve fisheries management.
• Implement flexible rights-based management schemes for both coastal and high seas fisheries.
• Prevent fisheries authorities from setting catch limits above scientific recommendations.
• Involve the fishing industry in data collection and co-management of fisheries.
• Mandate environmental impact and stock assessments for all commercially fished species.
• Integrate fisheries and environment policy within government.
• Provide economic incentives for industry initiatives to source legal and sustainable fish.
• Introduce legislation to ban the import and domestic trade of illegally-caught fish (e.g. US Lacey Act).
• Implement a ‘Cap and Restore’ approach for all severely depleted fisheries.
• Adopt modern MPA network targets to propel domestic implementation of MPAs that link in to national and regional networks, alongside comprehensive fisheries management outside of protected areas.

RFMO Members
• Review and reform of RFMO conventions to promote sustainable, ecosystem-based management of marine biotic resources.
• Construct new RFMOs or expand existing RFMOs to manage species and areas currently unmanaged.
• Implement UNFSA requirements for a precautionary, ecosystem-based approach.
• Agree new RFMO rules that prevent decision-making bodies from setting catch limits above scientific recommendations.
• Incentivise RFMO membership by linking it to capacity-building assistance, and agree economic sanctions against non-compliant states.
• Establish RFMO mandates for all flag states to ensure their vessels carry tamper proof monitoring and surveillance equipment.

Coastal and Port States
• Increase and harmonise sanctions against illegal fishing and transhipment vessels across coastal and port states in key regions.
• Establish regional agreements for sharing data on fishing activities and resources for monitoring and enforcement, especially in developing country coastal and port states.
International Actions

New Agreements
• Mandate the UN to review and monitor RFMO performance based on existing benchmark standards for RFMOs in the UNFSA.
• Support the development of a multilateral and enforceable agreement on fishing subsidy reform within the World Trade Organisation.
• Require all fishing and reefer vessels to carry unique identification, such as IMO numbers.
• Hold non-compliant states accountable using the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.
• Adopt modern MPA network targets to propel the creation of marine reserves and networks globally.
• Investigate a new Global Framework Agreement for Marine Spatial Planning in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
New Multilateral Institutions
• Continue and increase support for the International Monitoring Control and Surveillance Network, expanding its mandate to conduct and coordinate global high seas fisheries intelligence-gathering.

Sea Around Us Speaks at the United Nations

This week the Sea Around Us is present for the weeklong UN meeting to review high seas fisheries . Rashid Sumaila’s work is being used to frame fisheries because the $27 billion his team has estimated in yearly subsidies keep unprofitable boats afloat. Former Sea Around Us M.Sc. student Sarika Cullis-Suzuki also joins in the meeting to discuss her work on the effectiveness of RFMOs. As noted in the Pew press release, her study evaluated the 18 regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), the intergovernmental bodies tasked with managing fishing on the high seas, and found they have failed to halt dramatic declines of fish stocks. The study by Cullis-Suzuki and Daniel Pauly, Failing the high seas: A global evaluation of regional fisheries management organizations, appeared in print this week at Marine Policy. Update May 28, 2010: Read coverage from Cullis-Suzuki’s presentation the UN meeting in The Guardian.

Sea Around Us Turns Ten

The year 2010 marks the 10th anniversary of the Sea Around Us Project and the production of a Ten-Year Retrospective Report. The report includes a forward by Josh Reichert, Managing Director of the Pew Environment Group, a full narrative of the project, a full list of publications, and the top ten accomplishments of the project, also listed here:

1. Created the first database in the world that assigns catch and derived information, such as catch values, to the areas where they originated, i.e., the Exclusive Economic Zones of specific countries, and Large Marine Ecosystems. This work, led by Dr Reg Watson, has made the Sea Around Us website the key source of spatialized fisheries information for the international scientific and environmental communities, accessed by thousands of users every month, and used for a wide range of products.

2. Mapped global marine fisheries catches since 1950 using a novel methodology, and established in the process that China, by over-reporting its catches, had masked a global decline of fisheries catches that started in the late 1980s. These results, published in the journal Nature, and later tacitly endorsed by FAO, provided the background for discussions about the global crisis of fisheries, e.g. as part of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

3. Debunked, via reports presented at meetings of the International Whaling Commission and a ‘policy forum’ article in Science, the assertion promoted by the pro-whaling community that marine mammals and fisheries globally compete for fish and therefore that the culling of whales would make more fish available for human consumption.

4. Estimated the extent of subsidies to the fishing industry on a global basis and by subsidy type. Dr Rashid Sumaila, in collaboration with Oceana, an environmental NGO, was able to introduce these findings into WTO negotiations aiming at eliminating capacity-enhancing subsidies to fisheries.

5. Produced a series of papers investigating the successes and limitations of consumer awareness campaigns. This work, led by then Ph.D. student Jennifer Jacquet was among the first to question the effectiveness of consumer awareness campaigns on the seafood industry, and highlighted obstacles to these efforts, such as product mislabeling, and lack of metrics for measuring campaign effectiveness. Some of the market-based alternatives presented by the Sea Around Us have attracted the attention of several campaign groups.

6. Developed and applied a methodology for ‘reconstructing’ catch statistics from coastal countries, which generally yielded catch estimates much higher than those reported by the FAO. Catch reconstructions, led by Dr Dirk Zeller, have been, or are being completed for more than 80 countries. Results typically show that ‘small-scale’ fisheries contribute far more to the food security of developing countries than previously assumed, highlighting the need for a reassessment of policies that conventionally marginalize such fisheries.

7. Simulated, for the first time, the effect of climate change on fisheries and marine ecosystems on a global scale. Led by post-doctoral researcher Dr William Cheung (now a project collaborator based at the University of East Anglia, UK), the Sea Around Us demonstrated in a continuing series of papers how increases in ocean temperatures may lead to massive shifts in marine biodiversity and estimated ‘catch potentials’ of coastal countries.

8. Developed, using the Ecopath with Ecosim software, a technique for integrating global ecological and fisheries datasets. The development of this “database-driven construction of ecosystem models”, led by Dr Villy Christensen, may represent the most data-intensive integration in marine ecology today. It will be used in 2010 and beyond to derive time series of biomass and related information for all ecosystems in the global ocean, from 1950 to the present, and for projections under various global change scenarios.

9. Supported its principal investigator and main spokesperson, Dr Daniel Pauly, as he became recognized as a leading voice for ocean conservation, as evidenced by his being awarded, e.g., the International Cosmos Prize (Japan, 2005), the Volvo Environment Prize (Sweden, 2006), the Excellence in Ecology Prize (Germany, 2007), the Ramon Margalef Prize in Ecology (Spain, 2008), and numerous honorary doctorates.

10. Overall, the Sea Around Us turned into a respected voice on fisheries science, conservation, and policy. The Project, besides having published numerous influential reports and other non-peer-reviewed publications, has published or participated in over 160 articles in the peer-review literature since 2000 and the publication rate of our first five years more than tripled in the second 5 years to 25 peer-reviewed articles per year, with many highlighted in the media.

Mission Blue a Success

Individuals onboard Mission Blue, a week long TED-sponsored journey around the Galapagos to raise awareness and money for the oceans, have donated more than $15 million to ocean conservation groups to sponsor education, protection of the Galapagos, eliminate fisheries subsidies, and more. The Sea Around Us Project’s Daniel Pauly was one of the many qualified speakers onboard the boat. Watch for an online version of Dr. Pauly’s talk on shifting baselines coming soon…

Daniel Pauly and Others Embark on Mission Blue

This week The Sea Around Us Project’s Daniel Pauly is in the Galapagos Island along with many other notable guests of Mission Blue to fulfill Sylvia Earle’s 2009 TEDPrize wish. TED talks, which is normally hosted in Monterey, California, gathers together remarkable speakers and then makes their talks available online.  This time the meeting is taking place in the Galapagos on the National Geographic boat The Endeavor and  over the four days, attendees of Mission Blue will experience seven fully programmed TED sessions, which include fellow marine scientists Jeremy Jackson, Callum Roberts, Enric Sala, as well as the host Sylvia Earle.  Read about the full line-up and  follow the Mission Blue blog.